Professional Overwatch: Past, Present, Future.

Past

It has been 10 months since Overwatch was released and exploded onto the world of eSports. For a brief time, Overwatch usurped League of Legends’ top viewership spot on Twitch, and as the most played game in PC Bang cafes across South Korea. The game is still young; there is no formal league playing consistently in North America or Europe. Teams are either going through a myriad of roster changes or aren’t changing at all and winning games on synergy and consistency alone. The tournaments are up and down as well, each one with a different organizer, and each one with a different degree of coverage and production value. And some, with very little funding, are actually held online, bringing along an unfortunate mix of ping issues and tech problems, making the tournaments hard to watch and follow. Competitions of note have been scarce, but they certainly paint a picture of the potential this game has to be a major contender in the world of eSports. It is a young community, but a passionate one that is growing rapidly, and the exciting part? We get to watch it develop in a world starting to fully understand the value and complexity of competitive eSports.

Europe kicked it all off in August 2016 with the ESL Atlantic Showdown, the first international Overwatch tournament. Four NA teams and four EU teams qualified to go head to head and find out just which region would lose to South Korea slightly less. Europe’s Rogue and Reunited duked it out in the grand final with Rogue coming out on top, and North America’s Team EnVyUs and Fnatic coming in third and fourth respectively.

September saw North America host the Overwatch Open in Atlanta. This time, 8 teams from NA and 8 teams from EU came together to play for a $300,000 prize pool. The teams from each region split into two groups of four teams, with the top two from each group going on to the playoff stage. After the playoff stage, each region had their representative in the grand final; Team EnVyUs for North America and Misfits for Europe. Misfits emerged with a 3-1 victory over EnVyUs.

Then, as the clouds parted, a bright, glorious light cast itself on the world of professional Overwatch. South Korea broadcasting network OGN (formerly ongamenet) gifted us with APEX Season 1. APEX consisted of 16 teams: 12 South Korean, two North American, and two European. They were randomly split into four groups for a round-robin group stage, with the top two from each group heading on to the playoffs.

APEX boasted the greatest production value for any Overwatch tournament to date thanks to OGNs long-established presence in the world of eSports broadcasting. Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles and Erik “DoA” Lonnquist, who some might know from OGN’s English broadcasts of the South Korean League of Legends league, made their Overwatch casting debut. APEX Season 1 ended in a massive upset, with Team EnVyUs sweeping one of the top South Korean teams Afreeca Blue in a best of seven. The last place teams from each group would go on to fight for their spot in APEX Season 2 in the Promotion Tournament.

While APEX Season 1 was happening, Blizzard tested the waters with a competition quite unprecedented. At Blizzcon 2016, in Anaheim, CA, 16 teams representing countries around the world played on the first truly international Overwatch stage. This tournament gave us a very welcome peek into the production value Blizzard will hopefully put into their Overwatch League. We saw some smoother camera transitions, interesting vantage points for big team fights, and teamfight breakdowns through replays and post game analysis, as well post game interviews—essential features we have come to appreciate and expect from eSports broadcasting. In the end, South Korea came out on top over Russia in the grand finals, but the real winners of this competition were the fans. This experiment from Blizzard will undoubtedly play heavily into their Overwatch league, but only time will tell.

Team EnVyUs - Overwatch
Team EnVyUs’s dominant roster

After APEX Season 1, December was a pretty Overwatch-free month, with the exception of the weekend of the 16th, over which we got to watch two tournaments: MLG Vegas, in Las Vegas, NV, and IEM Season XI in Gyeonggi, South Korea. MLG Vegas 2016 was an NA-exclusive tournament that carried over some patterns from other games—Cloud 9, Fnatic, and Team EnVyUs played consistently well, with the previously underperforming FaZe Clan joining them in the finals. FaZe Clan made a surprise run to face off against Team EnVyUs in the finals, but in true Team EnVyUs fashion they swept FaZe in the best of 7.

 

IEM Gyeonggi was a small, direct invite tournament, consisting of Misfits and Rogue from Europe, and Lunatic-Hai, LuxuryWatch Red, Afreeca Blue, and Kongdoo Panthera from South Korea. Unfortunately, Europe failed to show up, and underdog team LW Red pulled out the massive upset with a 3-1 victory over Lunatic-Hai in the finals. LW Red, despite their stunning upset at IEM Gyenoggi and consistent performance in the APEX regular season, would go on to lose a spot in APEX Season 2 to Afreeca Red in a very close best of 5 tiebreaker.

Present

Cut to present day: APEX Season 2 is in full swing, with Group Stage 1 having just come to a close. South Korean challenger team Meta Athena have clinched group A, with Team EnVyUs trailing.

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Lunatic-Hai, having given up only map in the entire stage, holds the number one spot over LuxuryWatch Blue in group B. Unfortunately the European invite, Misfits, who won only one series over fourth place Afreeca Red, failed to clutch in their critical match against Lunatic-Hai.

In group C, Cloud 9 was not able to inch out a victory over 1st place Kongdoo Uncia in the final match, and lost the number 2 spot to Afreeca Blue on a tie breaker rule.

Finally, in a dominating final performance, Run Away swept Fnatic for the second place spot in group D. Kongdoo Panthera went undefeated, not even giving up a map in Group Stage 1, and stands posed to be one of the leaders in the second group stage.

Group Stage 2 begins on March 3rd. The top two teams from each group in Group Stage 1 will be split into 2 groups and will compete in a GSL format. This format is confusing, but in a nutshell, the victors of the first round of matchups will face off in the second round of matchups, as will the losers of the first round. The final match will be the winner from the losers’ game, and the loser from the winners’ game, with the top 2 performing teams going on to playoffs. For the rest of March and the first part of April, we look forward to watching the ongoing developments in APEX as these top teams come together in the playoffs for some excellent Overwatch.

Future

Then, there is a bleak shadow of sadness that follows. At the time of this publication, there are no premier tournaments publicly scheduled. It is safe to assume that OGN will start APEX season 3 shortly after the conclusion of APEX season 2. But where is Blizzard? What about the Overwatch League?

Well for starters, there is no date set. Currently all we know is that Blizzard plans on hosting a “player combine” sometime in 2017. A player combine is the eSports equivalent of the NFL Draft. Blizzard wants to present all players with the same opportunity to rise to the pro level—Blizzard calls it the “path to glory.” The combine is going to be a big pool of players that have demonstrated exceptional play in ranked Overwatch, online leagues, and Overwatch events. The players in the combine will be chosen by teams that in theory will be based in cities all over the world, much like current professional sports franchises.

In fact, Blizzard intends to have existing sports franchises buy teams to play in the Overwatch league. They’ve even gone so far as to court New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke into dipping their toes in the warm waters of eSports. The ideal vision of the Overwatch League that Blizzard has laid out is as innovative as it is ambitious. Eventually, fans can expect to see a massive league spanning across the globe. Fans would get to watch their teams play live with teams hosting home games in their city and packing venues with loud, jersey-clad hooligans. Teams would expectedly have salary caps and roster changes would hang on player contracts in much the same way that the process currently works for the NFL or the NBA. Blizzard has even begun to talk about how this would affect the game we all play, with in-game purchasable skins, tags, emotes, etc. so players can BM with their favorite team’s swag.

Expect coverage on the remainder of APEX Season 2 to begin soon. As more tournaments are announced and more teams develop we will increase our coverage of competitive Overwatch. In the meantime, we will follow the current consistent teams and their roster changes, speaking to some of the players to hear their stories on issues within the community and the challenges and obstacles of the current game meta and competitive play. We will also be discussing Overwatch on a community level; we want to talk about things that affect the everyday player. So post in the comments below all things Overwatch: community created content, plays, questions, and arguments!

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